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The average size of in-house legal teams is 12 and growing – Vahura’s Avinash Sah
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The average size of in-house legal teams is 12 and growing – Vahura’s Avinash Sah

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Avinash Sah
Avinash Sah

Avinash Sah is a Senior Consultant at Vahura, advising clients with market information in regard to hiring trends and industry information. He has also helped clients in strategic hires at the mid and senior level across various industries.

In this interview with Bar & Bench‘s Anuj Agrawal, Avinash discusses the pros and cons of an in-house job, the salaries and perks that come with an in-house position, and more.

Anuj Agrawal: Do you see any macro changes in in-house recruitments?

Avinash Sah: When we started the legal recruitment business in 2007, in-house hiring constituted less than 10% of our annual work. Today it is about 60% of our legal recruitment pie. In-house legal teams have certainly been growing.

We ran a survey among 70 General Counsel in 2014 and found that the average size of in-house legal teams was about 12 lawyers per company and growing. Hiring is primarily in the mid & senior level (5 to 15 years). We are also seeing the rise of specialist roles within the legal function. For example, if a company is growing in-organically (through acquisitions and mergers), then we see clients recruit for specialist M&A roles.

We are also seeing the rise of specialist roles within the legal function. For example, if a company is growing in-organically (through acquisitions and mergers), then we see clients recruit for specialist M&A roles.

In-house legal salaries have also been rising, though usually lower (15% – 25%) than comparative law firm compensation. We are seeing many law firm lawyers move in-house at the senior associate and pre-partner level, which is also a signal of competitive salaries.

Anuj Agrawal: Pay-scale – In terms of in-house counsels, what is the average pay-scale that is being offered by mid to large companies?

Avinash Sah: At Vahura, our data is analysed from primary data that comes to us as part of our recruiting or consulting offerings. The data  below is not representative of any one company, but provides the range for legal professionals across the In-House Legal teams.

There are sectoral differences and remuneration levels do vary across cities, with the highest salaries paid-out in Mumbai, followed by the NCR region, Bangalore, Hyderabad and Chennai. The highest paying sectors tend to be heavily regulated (BFSI, Pharma), have a large component of international risk (IT, MNC) or are hot sectors (E-Commerce, Technology).

ExperienceDesignations CTC range (in INR lacs)
1-3 yearsExecutive Legal/Assistant Manager 4.8 – 12.0
3-5 yearsManager/ Legal Counsel8.4 – 18.0
5-8 yearsSenior Manager/Senior Legal Counsel15.0 – 36.0
8-10 yearsAsst. Vice President/ Lead Legal Counsel24.0 – 60.0
10-15 yearsVice President/ Head Legal40.0 – 100.0
15-25 yearsGeneral Counsel / Director Legal80.0 – 300.0+

Anuj Agrawal: From an HR perspective, what do you see are the benefits of working in-house, i.e in terms of perks, stock options etc?

Avinash Sah: Most corporates take good care of their employees, and provide good facilities and benefits at work. Transport to and from work, medical insurance and extended maternity benefits are some of the perks that attract and retain talent. Stock options are only offered at the senior level, but if you are at the right company, it can be a gamechanger financially.

A few of my thoughts on some of the realities of working in-house that may help someone considering a professional change:

a) Being connected to Business: An in-house lawyer partners with business and takes decisions that have a real impact. He dives into commercial transactions from a legal and commercial perspective to protect the company’s interest, while trying to find a business solution. Learning the nuances of the business, the sector and its competition will prepare you for success.

b) Taking Ownership of Results: 
It is not enough for an in-house lawyer to give an opinion or state what the law is on a point. Her job is to find a solution and get results, within the framework of the law.

It is not enough for an in-house lawyer to give an opinion or state what the law is on a point. 

c) Managing People and Expectations: In-house counsel have to build trust and equity with their business counterparts, manage their own teams and ourside counsel. Good people and relationship skills are a pre-requisite for the job.

d) Work Life Balance:
 You do have more control over your time and can always engage external counsel where there is a tight deadline. It is largely true, that in-house lawyers have a better work life balance. Many corporates also have flexi-time policies and enable remote working. More time to spend at home, attend to personal engagements, all without compromising on the quality of your work.

f) You are not expected to build a book:
 No sales or business development. An in-house counsel is not expected to bring clients or to build a practice. However, to do your job effectively, it helps to build good relationships across the company. Your primary purpose is to safeguard the interests of the company from legal risk, remove legal obstacles and enable business.

Anuj Agrawal: What are some of the newer practice areas coming up?

Avinash Sah: We are seeing a number of specialist roles coming under the purview of the General Counsel’s oversight. Some of these include – M&A, Disputes, Government Relations and Compliance. The Company Secretarial role is increasingly aligning to the CFO and not Legal.

With companies increasingly doing business across jurisdictions, we are also seeing ‘country specialists’ emerge within the legal team.

From a hiring perspective, we see a high demand for experienced professionals in: – M&A, Disputes, Compliance, Project Finance, Food Laws, Labour & Employment and IT contracts.

Anuj Agrawal: In terms of job applications, any mistakes that are commonly made?

Avinash Sah: Most common mistakes are because of a lack of care or attention to detail. As a lawyer, every communication, especially in writing, speaks volumes about the professional you are. So, please take care and pay attention to every communication – with your consultant, HR, Legal or management.

a) Resume :
We can tell a lot about the professional from how the resume has been drafted. Drafting and formatting are, after all, core skills of a lawyer, and the resume is a writing sample. Common mistakes include spelling mistakes, inconsistent information, bad drafting, and formatting. The resume creates the first impression, please make sure it is a good one.

b) First contact: We have seen people send blank emails (with resume attached); writing a two liner email (without any context or introduction), or sending a mail copying the world. These mails are deleted on sight and don’t merit a response. If you want someone to care enough about your application, put some thought and care to the first impression that you want to create.

If you want someone to care enough about your application, put some thought and care to the first impression that you want to create.

Proposed strategy – If you intend to use the email route – drop an email and highlight your experience, your strengths, your achievements, and most importantly – your interest in the next move. Build a personal connect – do your research about the person you are writing to, cite a common reference, if there is one.

b) Applying for anything: My humble request to all job seekers, is to please read the job post carefully. Then evaluate it with your experience and interests – and only then should one apply. Most of the candidates send in their application asking for feedback, when they don’t qualify for the basic parameters that the role demands. Always check on the years of experience, the practice area [if mentioned], match on location, etc.

c) Missing details and fabrication of facts: This is a ‘Big No’. It can be very dangerous for your reputation and can get you blacklisted. If there are gaps in your experience, let your consultant know, so that it can be addressed in the proper manner. It is a small community and word gets around.

Anuj Agrawal: As a specialist in the Legal & Governance space – do you see the demand for compliance positions increasing?

Avinash Sah: Yes. The demand for mid and senior compliance positions have doubled from last year. We are seeing a demand for both statutory compliance, as well as ethical compliance positions. The latter is driven by FCPA (Foreign Corrupt Practices Act – United States) and the UK Bribery Act. At a senior level, we are seeing some Disputes and Compliance roles integrated in one position, which is an interesting development.

International MNCs or companies in the IT Sector – who are doing business with clients in the US/UK are always looking for good mid and senior level professionals with a strong compliance background.

The new Companies Act 2013 has also created a demand for company secretaries, as it is a statutory requirement under the Act for certain classes of companies.

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